polarization

Why We Need the 'Ministry of Reconciliation' Now More Than Ever

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There is a story in our family lore that during a contentious presidential campaign a few decades ago my father refused to drive his mother, my grandmother, to the polling station on election day. She was voting for the opposing candidate and he didn’t want her to cancel out his vote. Though contentious at the time, it is a story that still evokes laughter in our family each time it is retold. And don’t worry — grandma eventually got a friend to drive her to the polls.

Is It Time to Turn Off the News?

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For years, I’ve had a rocky relationship with the news. I love to know what’s going on in the world, but I can’t help but notice that the news sources I read all present the story from a definite slant. More and more over the last couple years, I’ve felt like I’m doing battle with the newspaper every morning. Each day, the media machine is telling me who I should vote for, what to buy, what new disease to fear, and who my country should kill.

Immigration, Polarized Politics, and a Bear Called Paddington

Via paddington.com
When debates get polarized it can be hard to find our way back to more reasonable territory. We see it happening right now on the issue of U.S. immigration policy or the refugee crisis in Europe. It’s hard to make progress because we have gotten stuck at the extremes. We have demonized one another – an easy thing to do with people whose positions appall and offend us. Compromise? Why would I compromise with someone who is so obviously wrong!

Our Social Commentary vs. the Gospel

typing on a tablet
Man typing on a tablet, guteksk7 / Shutterstock.com

Like many things — theological beliefs, worships styles, forms of baptism, and preferred interpretations of the Bible — Christians are divided when it comes to which social justice issues, culture wars, and current events are worth supporting and condemning or even talking about.

Followers of Christ can be against gay marriage or for it, Democrat or Republican, a pacifist or a soldier, a vegan or a meat-eater, an animal rights advocate or a hunter — Christians constantly contradict one another, and that’s OK.

Singing the Same Song in Different Languages

It's a Small World Tokyo / Kevin Poh / Flickr.com
It's a Small World Tokyo / Kevin Poh / Flickr.com

Last month we went to Disney World — a perpetual feast for the senses. But. For someone like me who needs to get alone for a little daily contemplation, it can be a bit overwhelming. Except for one saving grace: It's a Small World.

I was 17, I think — and much less self-aware, I know — when I first climbed aboard the jolting, jostling little boat that would carry me to "distant shores" through the rooms filled with dolls all singing the same song. There were different languages and different clothing styles. The customs represented varied as greatly as the terrain upon which they were stationed. Some sang among mountain peaks, others on desert plains. Some bundled in parkas and earmuffs, others in grass skirts and leis.

And I don't know what it was — the change in pace from the exhilarating roller-coaster-kind-of-rides or the welcome blast of air conditioning — but there was something stilling about watching all these representatives of different peoples mouthing words to the same tune. There was a deeper message in it for that ponytailed teenager. Depths that it would take me years to plumb.

A small, small world. Indeed.

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Days after Maya Angelou's passing, I posted a few of her beautiful words on Facebook:

"If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is to be present in the present ... gratefully."

Pretty amazing words, right? What could possibly be the offense in them? Within minutes a comment popped up, the gist of which was to deny the beauty and wisdom of the words for the sake of Angelou's apparently deviant beliefs about abortion (specifically, deviant according to this commenter).

Christian Leaders Seek to Overcome Polarization

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts speaks during the April 10, 2013 meeting. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

 

WASHINGTON — Twenty-five top Christian leaders gathered in the U.S. city with perhaps the worst reputation for civil discourse Wednesday and committed themselves to elevating the level of public conversation.

Meeting in a row house three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the group spanned the Christian spectrum, and included officials from liberal churches and the most conservative of interest groups.

“The ground of our spiritual understanding is in treating other people as the image of God, treating people with respect,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

“Faith leaders have a remarkable opportunity to shift the conversation, but it’s very challenging, particularly in a larger society that wants to understand everything as a battle, as engaging the enemy, rather than with someone who might have something to teach us,” she said.

Breaking the Impasse

THE CHURCH IS locked in a polarized debate around same-sex relationships that is creating painful divisions, subverting the church's missional intent, and damaging the credibility of its witness. We've all heard the sound-bite arguments. For some, condoning or blessing same-sex relationships betrays the clear teaching of the Bible, and represents a capitulation to the self-gratifying, permissive sexual ethic of a secularized culture. For others, affirming same-sex relationships flows from the command to love our neighbor, embodies the love of Jesus, and honors the spiritual integrity and experience of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

The way the debate presently is framed makes productive dialogue difficult. People talk past one another. Biblical texts collide with the testimony of human experience. The stakes of the debate become elevated from a difference around ethical discernment to the preservation of the gospel's integrity—for both sides. Lines get drawn in the ecclesiastical sand. Some decide that to be "pure" they must separate themselves spiritually from others and break the fellowship of Christ's body. Then the debate devolves into public wrangling over judicial proceedings, constitutional interpretations, and property ownership. Meanwhile, the "nones," those who are walking away from any active relig-ious faith, find further confirmation for their growing estrangement.

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Seeking Clarity

Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com
Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com

NEW YORK — The "October trifecta" that touched my life — my father's death, surgery the next day, and the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Sandy around New York — did what traumatic events often do.

They left me emotionally fatigued and ready for some fresh clarity, fresh perspective, and fresh prioritizing.

When life seems fragile, it's clear some things matter more than others. It reminds us that attention must be paid to family, friends, and the differences we make in our work and our faith. Lesser concerns — like the tablet computer I have been angling to acquire — quickly fall away.

Thou Shalt Follow These 10 Commandments for the Presidential Election

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Mitt Romney and Barack Obama greet each other at the 2nd presidential debate at Hofstra University. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The presidential election is only weeks away… and it’s getting ugly out there. I mean … really ugly.

And before you think I’m just talking about the political process, the political parties, or the respective candidates, I was actually talking about you, me, us, and them … the people. And by people, I’m also especially talking about Christians.

Sometimes, I feel it would be appropriate to label how some Christians engage the presidential election season as “Christians Gone Wild."

Since there’s sure to be drama this week and next following the debates —  and each day leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6, and likely some weeks afterward — I thought I’d share with you my 10 Commandments of the Election Season for Christians in hopes that it might speak some balance, sense, and perspective to any readers, not just during this election season but thereafter; not just in this country but in any country.

Why else am I sharing this?

Because I really want you to still respect yourself the morning after the election season.
Because I really want your friends to still respect you, too.

Know what I mean?

So, here are my 10 Commandments of the Election Season

Time to Go Deeper

It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.

Don’t get me wrong —  there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.

But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.

Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.

And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.

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